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"Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.""Furthermore, I think Carthage must be destroyed."
—Cato the Elder. In a speech about a new public works project.
"The great Carthage waged three wars. It was still powerful after the first, still habitable after the second. It was untraceable after the third."
These were a series of wars fought between The Roman Republic and Carthage. The basic explanation for them seems to be that there were only two major powers left(though many minor ones), none to provide a third to assure Balance of Power and the Mediterranean just wasn't big enough for both.
The first one started when a group of mercenaries around what is now Messina in Sicily called the Mamertines declared themselves an independent kingdom and asked for protection from Syracuse. Their critical strategic position caused both Rome and Carthage to rush to offer their protection and to collide with one another touching off a general war. The Romans succeeded on land making themselves the dominant power in Sicily. At sea there was a remarkable upset in which the lubberly Romans took on the Carthaginians who were recognized as a Badass Navy and swept them from the sea (mostly by getting their own Badass Army from their ships to those of their enemies via a drawbridge-like device known as the corvus).
The Second War started in Spain in a similar manner, as a quarrel over the fate of a small state, this time the city-state of Saguntum. However it appears to have been a deliberately engineered provocation by the famous Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian noble who was ruling Spain in the name of the Carthaginian empire but almost as a private kingdom. Upon the declaration of war, Hannibal made a surprise march over the Alps and invaded Italy, winning several battles including Cannae, a battle which is still a catchword among connoisseurs of tactical virtuosity. The Romans recovered by their desperate gathering from any possible source of Reserves including slaves. Deciding that they couldn't match Hannibal they pinned him in Italy using the strategy devised by Fabius Maximus Cunctator (Fabius the Great Delayer). In the meantime Roman legions began tearing up the rest of Carthage's empire to leave Hannibal isolated. During this time the general Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus better remembered as just Scipio Africanus (literally Scipio [conqueror] of Africa), from the Scipio family gained prominence with his victories in Spain. On his suggestion the Romans landed close to Carthage forcing Hannibal to return to defend it. Scipio and Hannibal met on the field of Zama, and Scipio won leaving Rome as the greatest power in the Mediterranean and well on its way to becoming The Empire.
While the First War seems to have been a mutual collision, and the Romans could arguably claim to be fighting in self-defense in the Second, the Third War was a genuine Kick the Dog on Rome's part. The best that can be said in extenuation is that every family in Rome was mourning someone and they would be more than human not to want Carthage destroyed. Yet by that time, the Empire of Carthage had been reduced to the City of Carthage. The Third Punic War was thus simply the siege of Carthage, which didn't stand a chance from the start. The Romans overcame desperate resistance, sacked Carthage and according to legend "sowed the fields with salt" to keep anything from growing. This was the end of the wars.
Rome seems to have triumphed through its superior organization. It is also credited with a more motivated populace, as the army of Carthage was composed chiefly of vassals and mercenaries whereas the Roman army was made up of citizens and near citizens. Rome could also, for that reason, field a greater supply of manpower. Finally Carthage itself may have been lax in its support until too late, and the Second War at times looks like a private war of Hannibal's. The war created a number of famous commanders, mostly on the Roman side, but the best remembered was the Carthaginian Hannibal.
The term Punic Wars, by the way, comes from the term Punici or Poenici, which is a transliteration of the Roman word for Phoenecian (members of that civilization founded Carthage in the 9th century BC). Carthaginians may have called it "the Roman wars" for all we know, but their perspective is unfortunately lacking for obvious reasons. Most sources for the history of the Punic Wars are either Roman or Greek.
Also technically the longest war in history, due to the mayors of Rome and Carthage signing a peace treaty in 1985 "officially" ending the war.
Tropes for this page:
- Absent-Minded Professor : Archimedes. According to tales when the Romans were doing their Rape, Pillage and Burn in Syracuse, a legionary came upon him while he was doing math problems in the dust. Archimedes barely bothered to notice him so the soldier killed him. The Roman General was greatly annoyed as he had wanted Archimedes alive, either because the Roman general was a Cultured Warrior or Archimedes might be useful, or both.
- Given that the Roman General was Marcus Claudius Marcellus who had been awarded the Spolia opima, and was regarded before Scipio Africanus as Rome's foremost General, it's very likely to have been the former.
- Ambadassador : Scipio was about as good at diplomacy as in war and the two reinforced each other.
- Arch Enemy: Rome and Carthage.
- Badass Army : Usually Rome but Hannibal's army in Italy qualifies, what with Hannibal managing to out-strategize Rome for 16 years after losing almost half his army in the alps.
- Badass Creed: The Mamertines. The word means Children of Mars (the war god). In other words it means "Children of battle".
- Badass Family : The Barcids (Hannibals family). Several families in Rome including the Scipios, of whom Scipio Africanus was best remembered.
- Badass Grandpa: The King of Numidia at Zama
- Badass Spaniard: Both sides sought the favor of Spanish tribesmen. Scipio's relations with them seem almost like a Roman version of Lawrence of Arabia at times.
- Beast of Battle : Hannibal's elephants. Practically the only thing most people remember about the Punic Wars. Too bad they had a tendency to panic in battle.
- Boarding Party: The Romans stopped losing sea battles once they stopped trying to use traditional tactics (which didn't work, since the Carthaginians were better at it) and started using these, relying on their infamously brutal legionaries to serve as ad hoc marines.
- Cincinnatus: Fabius and Scipio. Scipio could conceivably have made himself a Glorious Leader. Fabius was a "dictator"(in the Roman sense it was a legitimate office appointed by the Senate in emergency in a decree of what moderns would call martial law) for awhile and left dutifully when his time was up.
- Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity: Crossing the Alps with elephants.
- Cool Horse: The Kingdom of Numidia was known for its cavalry and both sides desired their alliance eagerly.
- Cool Ship: Quinqueremes, hexaremes and more.
- Cool Versus Awesome: Scipio versus Hannibal at Zama. It is not often we see two world class generals face to face.
- Conscription: The reason Rome had a lot of reserves
- Defeat Means Friendship: After the First War; Syracuse and Rome. During the second war the Romans weren't so merciful.
- Determinator: Rome
- Best shown by the Roman army defeated at Cannae: when asked if they wanted to have another go at defeating Hannibal, the survivors followed Scipio Africanus in Africa and actually defeated Hannibal.
- The Dog Bites Back: on both sides. At Zama, the Roman soldiers that broke Hannibal lines and defeated him were the survivors of the terrible Roman defeat at Cannae. In the siege of Carthage, the whole Carthaginian population, barely armed, fought to the last the overwhelming Roman army, resisting for three years and inflicting disproportionate losses before the Romans could prevail.
- Enemy Mine: They didn't liked it, but when the Mamertines requested for an alliance with the Roman Republic, the Syracusans allied with their former enemy the Carthaginian Empire.
- Final Battle: Zama
- Folk Hero: A lot. Hannibal for the Carthaginians, the Macedonians and other enemies of the Romans. Scipio and Fabius Maximus for the Romans. Hieron II for the Sicilians and other Italian peoples.
- Forever War
- Four-Star Badass: Hannibal most famous. But a number of others.
- Galley Slave: Averted. Galleys on both sides were usually rowed by freemen.
- The Glory That Was Rome
- Guile Hero: Scipio is usually portrayed as this.
- Your Mileage May Vary on if he was this or a Magnificent Bastard but Hiero II of Syracuse was definitely one cunning bastard. The whole First Punic War was a Batman Gambit he pulled on the Mamertines, and he played both Carthage and Rome against them. First by allying with the Carthaginians, then convincing the Romans after they won that he didn't had any real grudge against them, that he just wanted the Mamertines and that he would be a much better ally than them. Syracuse became a small superpower thanks to his diplomacy.
- Honor Before Reason: Among the most famous of these was the Roman general Regulus who according to legend submitted to death by Cold-Blooded Torture rather than break his parole.
- To elaborate: Regulus was captured by Carthage. While a prisoner, he was sent back on the promise that he would advocate a peace favorable to Carthage. When he arrived in Rome, he urged the Senate to refuse any peace offers and continue fighting. Afterwards he voluntarily returned to captivity with the now irate Carthaginians.
- Improvised Weapon: During the final siege, Carthaginians made bowstrings out of their women's hair.
- Land of One City : Most states including both Rome and Carthage were this. In the case of Rome and Carthage they were each one city-state with a wide dominance of territory.
- The Magnificent : Fabius Maximus Cunctator, Scipio Africanus.
- Magnificent Bastard: Romans seem to have considered Hannibal this, which is why we still remember him today. They hated him too much to regard him as a Worthy Opponent, but they regarded him as scary and formidable.
- Manly Tears: It has been told that Scipio Aemilianus, the commander of the Roman army in the Siege of Carthage, cried his eyes out when he withnessed the destruction, the slaughter and the looting his troops commited after they breached through the Carthaginians' defences.
- Moral Myopia : Romans called treachery "Punic Faith". You see, only Romans are allowed to be treacherous.
- My Defense Need Not Protect Me Forever : The Roman strategy in the second punic war. Inspired by Fabius.
- Overly Long Gag : Famously, Cato the Elder often invoked his personal motto "Carthage must be destroyed," even in completely unrelated contexts. He continued to do this for many years until he died (shortly before the Third Punic War broke out).
- Patriotic Fervor: Romans had a lot of this. Carthage is said to have not so much.
- Private Military Contractors: A lot of Hannibal's army.
- Proud Merchant Race: Carthage
- Proud Warrior Race: Spaniards and Numidians. Rome was more organized and was a Proud Soldier Race rather than a Proud Warrior Race.
- Rape, Pillage and Burn : The sack of Carthage. Other times obviously.
- The Republic: Both states had a republican form of organization, although it is said that the Roman Government was more representative of its citizens. Your Mileage May Vary on that one and in any case both states were rather authoritarian versions of a republic.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Hieron II of Syracuse.
- The Roman Republic
- Shocking Defeat Legacy : The legions that survived Cannae were sort of an ugly duckling in the Roman Army, despite the fact that they had survived by a Let's Get Dangerous moment of hacking their way right through the Punic lines to freedom. At Zama they redeemed their honor by being among the chief contributors to breaking Hannibal's line and ending the war.
- Silly Reason for War: A small local conflict between a greek city and a small horde of unemployed mercenaries escalated into three wars that were the ancient history's versions of World War I, II and III.
- Single-Issue Wonk: Cato the Elder. That quote at the top? He used it to finish every speech, regardless of subject.
- The Spartan Way: The Roman Army. Most definitely.
- Storming the Castle: Scipio's attack on Cartagena . He actually did it marching across the harbor, after learning from intelligence about tidal quirks in the area that allowed that in places.
- Tear Jerker : This Troper vaguely remembers reading a passage in which a Roman householder glances at a Punic slave doing chores and then wonders if a missing relation is doing the same thing, in Carthage.
- Trope Namer: "Fabian tactics", so called after Fabius Maximus Cunctator.
- We Have Reserves : Rome's army was essentially a citizen militia, supplemented by troops from its
vassalsallies. This gave Rome a significant manpower advantage over Carthage, which relied on mercenaries. The decisive factor in the wars was Rome being able to replace its losses, which were at times quite staggering.
- In the First Punic War, the Romans lost almost their entire fleet in a storm off Sicily in 255 BC (280 ships, about 100,000 men). They built and manned a new one, which perished in another storm en route to Africa in 253. Then they lost a third fleet in another storm off Sicily in 249. Finally rich merchants, citizens and shipowners built a fourth fleet, which pulled off the decisive victory of the Aegates Islands in 241.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? : Carthage Must Be Destroyed!
- Invoked in Gladiator: One of the Gladiator Games is a recreation of the Battle of Zama. Maximus played the Punic side, and unexpectedly he won.
- Invoked in Patton. Patton is shown touring an ancient battlefield in North Africa which is implied to be Zama.
- Not fiction, but Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy and The Prince deals heavily with the Punic war and draws many examples from it, not least of all because Livy had.
- Hannibal: Rome's Worst Nightmare is a made-for-TV movie produced by the BBC that retells the story of Hannibal with refreshing accuracy. Not exactly fiction, but worth mentioning.
- Ross Leckie's Carthage Trilogy retells the story of the Second and Third Punic wars from Hannibal's perspective.